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Orpheus in Mayfair and Other Short Stories
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The Man Who Gave Good Advice
To Henry Cust
When he was a child his baby brother came to him one day and said that their
elder brother, who was grown up, had got a beautiful small ship in his room.
Should he ask him for it? The child who gave good advice said: "No, if you ask
him for it he will say you are a spoilt child; but go and play in his room with it
before he gets up in the morning, and he will give it to you." The baby brother
followed this advice, and sure enough two days afterwards he appeared
triumphant in the nursery with the ship in his hands, saying: "He said I might
choose, the ship or the picture-book." Now the picture-book was a coloured
edition of Baron Munchausen's adventures; the boy who gave good advice had
seen it and hankered for it. As the baby brother had refused it there could be no
harm in asking for it, so the next time his elder brother sent him on an errand (it
was to fetch a pin-cushion from his room) judging the moment to be propitious,
he said to him: "May I have the picture-book that baby wouldn't have?" "I don't
like little boys who ask," answered the big brother, and there the matter ended.
The child who gave good advice went to school. There was a rage for stag
beetles at the school; the boys painted them and made them run races on a
chessboard. They imagined--rightly or wrongly--that some stag beetles were
much faster than others. A little boy called Bell possessed the stag beetle which
was the favourite for the coming races. Another boy called Mason was consumed
with longing for this stag beetle; and Bell had said he would give it to him in
exchange for Mason's catapult, which was famous in the school for the unique
straightness of its two prongs. Mason went to the boy who gave good advice and
asked him for his opinion. "Don't swap it for your catty," said the boy who gave
good advice, "because Bell's stag beetle may not win after all; and even if it does
stag beetles won't be the rage for very long; but a catty is always a catty, and
yours is the best in the school." Mason took the advice. When the races came
off, the stag beetles were so erratic that no prize was awarded, and they
immediately ceased to be the rage. The rage for stag beetles was succeeded by
a rage for secret alphabets. One boy invented a secret alphabet made of simple
hieroglyphics, which was imparted only to a select few, who spent their spare
time in corresponding with each other by these cryptic signs. The boy who gave
good advice was not of those initiated into the mystery of the cypher, and he
longed to be. He made several overtures, but they were all rejected, the reason
being that boys of the second division could not let a "third division squit" into
their secret. At last the boy who gave good advice offered to one of the initiated
the whole of his stamp collection in return for the secret of the alphabet. This
offer was accepted. The boy took the stamp collection, but the boy who gave
good advice received in return not the true alphabet but a sham one especially
manufactured for him. This he found out later; but recriminations were useless;
besides which the rage for secret alphabets soon died out and was replaced by a
rage for aquariums, newts, and natterjack toads.